Born October 3, 1946, Sacramento, California
Mike came into prominence in the ’70s as a member of Herbie Hancock’s band, but his career began as a child drummer at the early age of six in New Orleans. He paid his dues playing the blues, rhythm & blues and jazz, dividing his time between Texas, Sacramento and the Bay Area—San Francisco and Oakland, California. Mike was playing with well-known jazz leaders like Vince Guaraldi (yes, that’s Mike playing drums on Guaraldi’s “Peanuts” TV theme), when he met up with bassist Paul Jackson and formed a rhythm section partnership which has lasted until today.
Paul and Mike both played on Hancock’s “Thrust” album, (#13 Pop) which featured “Actual Proof,” a tune that clearly signaled a breakthrough in funk. The title comes from a Buddhist concept—if you are living correctly you will see “actual proof” of your success in the environment that surrounds you. Like Herbie Hancock, Mike is a strong follower of the Buddhist teachings of Nichiren Daishonin.
Mike Clark applied a jazz concept to funk. He wasn’t a jazz drummer trying to play funk; he was an R&B drummer who developed into a jazz drummer, then went back to rework his R&B and funk playing into another dimension. He utilized all the rock and R&B coordination techniques developed up to that point, including the linear concept of using various stickings to play only one piece of the drum kit at a time, but after he established a phrase of one, two or four bars, he improvised on the theme of that phrase without losing the basic idea. In a jazz conception, musicians play the melody, say, to a 32 bar tune, and then improvise over the chord changes of those 32 bars, but the form remains constant. After everyone has soloed, the players return to where they started and repeat the melody once again.
Mike used this concept with his funk rhythms. He stated them, stretched them, twisted them, improvised on them, within the song form, and then returned to the basic rhythm when it was all over. Most importantly, he was able to manage this without ever losing the